SPORTS: A history lesson for 21st century stadium critics

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It is Oct. 20, 1971.

I am standing near Market and Alabama streets, where the groundbreaking has taken place for a venue to be called Market Square Arena. The price tag is a salty $23 million, and the project has attracted critics and naysayers who wonder about the city’s priorities, especially since our mayor, Richard Lugar, is using federal revenuesharing funds to help pay for the arena. Plus, Lugar has this wacky idea about using the arena as a catalyst for the redevelopment of our sleepy downtown.

Critics say folks won’t be enticed to come downtown for Pacers’ games, and the arena-if it is built at all-should be constructed in the suburbs. Nonetheless, Lugar has this grand vision, even if a lot of people can’t see what it is.

It is May 27, 1982. I am standing near Georgia and Capitol streets, where there has been a groundbreaking for a stadium called the Hoosier Dome. It is being constructed as part of an expansion of the Indiana Convention Center, which opened 10 years earlier and is bursting at its seams.

Naptown is beginning to awaken from its slumber. Market Square Arena is busy with events, including a Men’s Final Four that allowed a relationship with the NCAA to take hold. The National Sports Festival is just a couple of months away, fostering relationships with the Olympic family. The urban campus of IUPUI is beginning to take shape. There’s a new velodrome near Lake Sullivan, and Eagle Creek Park contains a world-class rowing course.

Oh, but this domed stadium. The critics and naysayers are questioning the city’s priorities. There also is going to be a 1-percent food and beverage tax to help with financing, and the restaurant lobbyists are predicting doom for their businesses when customers realize 20 cents will be added to a $20 bill. Mayor Bill Hudnut also has this wacky idea that Indianapolis could be home to an NFL team. Who knows … maybe even basketball could be played there.

It is March 2, 1989. I’ve just come from a wrecking-ball ceremony at 25 W. Washington St. It signals the beginning of construction of Circle Centre mall.

The hotel, restaurant, sports and convention business is thriving, and both locals and visitors are flocking downtown like never before. Indy is getting nationwide attention from the media and other cities are wondering how we did it. The NFL is here and another Final Four is on its way.

But this Circle Centre mall? The critics and naysayers are questioning the city’s priorities. Why would anyone want to come downtown to shop?

It is spring of 1994. I am standing in a rat- and debris-infested lot by Maryland and West streets, yet the Indianapolis Indians are hoping this will be the site of a new minor-league ballpark.

The plan has its critics and naysayers, especially since venerable Bush Stadium on 16th Street seems perfectly fine. Indians President Max Schumacher is predicting the new ballpark will draw hundreds of thousands of fans by offering low-cost family entertainment, but that’s probably just another pie-in-the-sky outlook.

It is July 22, 1997. I’m at the corner of Georgia and Pennsylvania streets for the groundbreaking on Conseco Fieldhouse, and the critics and naysayers are again questioning our priorities. Do we really need a new basketball arena when we already have Market Square?

Supporters say the new venue will be able to attract events MSA couldn’t … even wrest the Big Ten basketball tournaments away from Chicago or stage a swimming championship. Yeah, right.

It is March 9, 1998. I’ve just come from the groundbreaking ceremonies for the NCAA’s national headquarters. From more than 50 cities, it chose us as its new home.

Who would have thought it possible, other than the folks who began building relationships with the NCAA back in 1979, the year before it brought the Final Four to MSA? And who would have thought this God-forsaken stretch of land along the banks of White River could be transformed into such a magnificent urban park, complete with museums, the zoo, botanical gardens, a ballpark and a concert venue?

It is almost August 2005. Groundbreaking for the new stadium and eventual Convention Center expansion awaits. History-our history-tells us it will be a good thing, despite what the critics, naysayers and even a local sports columnist want you to think.

Benner is a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly.To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send email to

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